Your ‘best chance’ of winning a Nobel Prize

SEOUL—A researcher’s “best chance” to win a Nobel Prize lies in “unexpected results” that are often overlooked or ignored, according to Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka. Speaking on 9 June at the World Conference of Science Journalists here in the South Korean capital, the co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was asked how young scientists could endeavor to win science’s highest honor. He answered frankly—he doesn’t really know—but he had some suggestions nonetheless.

For him, he continued, the trail of research that led to induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells—the epochal advance that earned him the prize—began with his amazement at a photograph of a Drosophila  (fruit fly) with a leg emerging from its eye. That photograph impressed on him the potentially immense power of a single gene.

The mission is not papers but treatments.

Yamanaka’s father encouraged him to become a doctor—but died just after Yamanaka received his medical degree. The loss of his father inspired him to pursue research that would help patients. “The mission is not papers but treatments,” he said in his talk here. At Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application in Japan, which he now heads, the emphasis is always “on the A”—for applications—he added.

Still, basic research is essential for preparing the way for applications that will result in cures, he emphasized. He therefore advised young scientists hoping to make the groundbreaking discoveries of the future to pay very careful attention to unexpected results. There, he suggested, lie the seeds not only of great prizes but also of great discoveries.

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